By Gerald Hausman
Santa Fe, NM, USA

Here is a book we should want to read and re-read. Brooks, as many know, is an excellent writer who delves into history and the characters of influence who have made it what it was and what it is up to the present moment. History is not his story or her story but our story, ever changing, ever illusory.

Sandburg said this in one of his best poems, “The people, yes.” Brooks might say the same in prose. But he is selective in his choice of the people themselves. In The Road to Character, he chronicles men and women who have made a difference over time. Yet we may not remember them today as well as our parents and grandparents did.

Writer Pico Iyer stated it well in The New York Times Book Review:

“In the age of the selfie, Brooks wishes to exhort us back to a semi-classical sense of self-restraint, self-erasure, and self-suspicion.”

So, what this fine book is about is a definition, or re-definition, of what factors contribute to greatness in society as a whole. That is to say, any society, in almost any period of time.

Quite simply, Brooks points us to a quality of excellence, which he calls “character.”

Gerald Hausman

If you are looking for assurance that everything is “upful and right” maybe you should read another book. The road that Brooks speaks of is a hard one. A very hard one.

Take, for instance, his chapter on Dorothy Day, the woman who single-handedly launched a revolution in Catholic thinking and practice during the 1930s. Her hard road was extremely arduous and hard-bitten.

She went from being a Bohemian writer and dreamer in the 1920s to a wild and wily, freewheeling woman of “easy virtue” in the 1930s. In her easy virtue days, she was vamp, a rake, a rambler and even a prostitute in her Skid Row apartment. She was a self-directed hedonist, a misdirected sinner, and as she herself has said, a lost soul.

However, she did, finally, come to a stunning realization on her own. She woke up one morning and said to herself … there are others out there.

And all at once she saw herself immersed in a society of human beings, all of whom were struggling, one way or another, to survive. She recognized she was one of them, not separate from them.

In the next phase of her enlightenment, she founded The Catholic Worker newspaper and also a great number of hospice houses for the poor, sick, wounded or dying.

Then she created, perhaps mostly by sheer will, a shelter for travelers, religious pilgrims, broken human beings, exhausted fragmental people, the shards of ghostly humanity. Day’s continuing self-realization included the idea that blind self-centeredness leads only to depravity of the soul as well as dissolution of the physical body. Was there some kind of redemption for humanity? Was there hope for the hopeless?

Once awakened, Dorothy Day selflessly sought to resurrect “the people, yes.” These, she imagined, were once bright-eyed, hopeful workers of the world. Idealists as well as materialists. People who were good and bad. Here on Skid Row she saw the beautiful and damned immersed, as she believed in sin, just as she had been. Here on the forsaken streets of New York were the persecuted, prosecuted and the terminally forgotten.

Day saw humanity through different eyes. She saw the ragged and woebegone as they were, not as she wished them to be. But she also saw the inner glow that came from their eyes when they had a decent meal under their belts.

“Every man is a good man in a bad world,” William Saroyan once wrote with not a little irony and a lot of humor.

However, Day viewed the human race with a similar eye, but also with a messianic, personal commitment. People were, she believed, both “… splendidly endowed and deeply flawed.” The hope of redemption was present in their souls, she believed, and from that point on, she would strive to save the lives of the lost.

For the rest of her life, Dorothy Day was committed to making a difference in the world. And she did – as writer, thinker, compassionate humanitarian.


The Road to Character gives not only one view of an exceptional character, such as Dorothy Day, but many – from St Augustine to Dwight Eisenhower; and from Samuel Johnson and George Eliot (born Mary Anne Evans) to A. Philip Randolph. There is the incredible portrait of George C. Marshall, and the even more amazing portrait of his wife Lily who, moments before her death began a letter to her mother. She wrote one word a piece of notepaper, “George”, slumped over and passed away.

In reading and re-reading this book, I was reminded that my father used to say: “Me, me, me, as long as we are on that deadbeat track, we are destined to fail.”

The characters cited in Brooks’ remarkable book were on a righteous path of helpfulness, self-sacrifice and reverence. They were by no means perfect. Some like the quixotic Ike Eisenhower were plainly seen and deeply hidden. He was an enigma in many ways but there was less egotism and more kindness in him than he knew himself.

My own father used to say, “When you let go of the word ‘me,’ you have more of the word ‘we.’”

All of the men and women featured in The Road to Character were we-people, whether they knew it or not.



Gerald Hausman is an award-winning, bestselling author and storyteller. 
His memoir, Little Miracles, was published in July 2019.


All opinions expressed are solely those of its author and do not reflect the opinions of Stay Thirsty Media, Inc.